Former U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Tony DiCicco traveled to Guatemala City from Feb. 22-25 as part of the U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy Program. DiCicco was joined by former Mexico WNT captain Monica Gonzalez in conducting clinics with children in, and near, Guatemala City. After the trip, DiCicco spoke with ussoccer.com about the experience.
Why did you accept the Sports Envoy trip invitation to Guatemala?
Tony DiCicco: “For a number of reasons. One, I’ve been asked to go a number of times and haven’t been able to go. Pam Perkins indicated they were short a person and they were hoping that I could accommodate. Another reason was to experience working with the U.S. embassy. I know from talking to some of my former players and others that have gone, these trips are very inspirational. You feel like you’re doing good and as much as you give, you also take from it. I was looking to participate and help in any way I could.”
What were you expecting?
TD: “I was expecting to do clinics with a lot of kids. We were hoping to be able to speak to some people that are policy makers. I’ve learned that you never know exactly what you’re going to get when you do clinics until you arrive to see how many kids you have; see how many coaches you have; see how many balls you have; the space and everything. I was open-minded and ready to maximize what we could do there. Of course, I had Monica Gonzalez with me and she was awesome, and we had a good group of local coaches. It’s not far from what I expected, just the setting and the circumstances that these kids are coming from. In Guatemala about 85 percent were below the poverty level. That made it very rewarding and fulfilling.
“The embassy people did a great job of organizing it. They said 80-100 kids; I’d say we were over 100 kids at every clinic. But I had a good group of coaches that were open to my direction and Monica’s direction. I thought we got a lot done. It was very positive and I thought we did some good.”
Why is this Sports Envoy program so important?
TD: “I think it’s important because we’re helping kids; we’re coaching coaches that will help a lot of kids. Beyond that, I think it’s an indication to see Americans in a different light and see what Americans are all about. It’s a goodwill gesture. I think that’s really important, especially in today’s world where young kids, through the internet, through media, are hearing much different messages from radical groups and others.”
How do you think you influenced the children who participated?
TD: “It was the whole gamut. I think some just came and had some fun. Others came and saw the possibilities, especially on the girls’ side. Others came and were inspired. I had some players come up to me and they knew about my ’99 team. One girl came up to me, she was a more accomplished player, and she said: ‘My favorite video is watching your team. My sister always complains because I always put it on.” It ran the gamut from just providing a fun, safe environment, to opening some eyes and letting kids see the possibilities and adults see the benefits of kids participating in sport or soccer certainly for girls. We inspired some kids, I think.”
How about you, personally? How did the trip influence you?
TD: “It was an eye opener in some cases, certainly when we went to the community that basically is off the Guatemala City dump. They don’t even know how many people are there. I can tell you I saw a lot of kids but they’re saying it’s anywhere from 35,000 to 90,000 people that live around this massive, massive dump. And they go into the dump, the big trucks are coming in but they look for anything that’s recyclable. Anything they think they can use, they bring it out and they sell it, they recycle it, they use it and that’s how they live.
“An American woman, Hanley Denning, started a school there called Safe Passage. And I would encourage everybody to visit www.safepassage.org because she has two schools—she’s now passed away but others have picked up her work—there are two schools, a preschool and a school from elementary right through high school. Kids are graduating from this school that would otherwise have no chance of getting an education except for programs like this.
“I thought the Embassy people were wonderful. They were tremendous ambassadors to the community. Ambassador (Todd) Robinson came out and participated in a clinic. I was proud to be an American and see how the Embassy interacted with the Guatemalan people and their ongoing support of the Guatemalan people through programs such as this.”